Operatic tragedy Nutcracker style

I’ve just got to get a couple of things off my chest.

I had been looking forward to my first production of the early Verdi opera Sicilian Vespers for some months. I was a little concerned by reviews which talked of excessive violence. This opera is a political tragedy set in the 12th century and murder, rape and treason are very much at its heart. HOWEVER, the director had decided to set it in the 18th century (when it was first written and performed) in ballet mode. The cast of Swan Lake appeared to have strayed onto the stage (and were promptly ravaged en masse), they reappeared several times for more of the same treatment. The villain doubled as a distinctly camp dancing master. The Sicilian conspirators lined up at a bar to execute ballet steps and the executioner was a barely-clad child-as-cherub with an axe.

There were some very clever wheezes when the audience appeared to be watching themselves on stage, the singing was often beautiful and moving AND the saving grace was the sublime music and the conducting skills of Antonio Pappano. But… I like tragedy to be tragic, I want to be moved to tears not giggles.

Grouse two. I read one of a series of books by a popular historical fiction writer (for a book group). I was given some facts I never knew. Fine. I was also treated to a scummy, slanderous, prurient version of the mental state of several historical figures. I was left with a feeling of disgust – a real mental indigestion.

Here is a suitably sad silver birch in winter to express my feelings.

Betula Tristis

Betula Tristis

6 thoughts on “Operatic tragedy Nutcracker style

  1. I don’t know the opera (I don’t know most operas), but I am always uneasy when writers/film-makers give us historical individuals. The play Amadeus was ludicrous, both with respect to Mozart and Salieri, and I happened on a BBC film where an actor played Beethoven listening to his third symphony. Everything about it was painful, especially the dialogue.

    • This is a very obscure Verdi opera. I have known the music for a while, but even a passionate Verdi listener like me can reach advanced years without having seen it. I have mixed feelings about depicting historical figures, I think it can be great occasionally – The King’s Speech, for instance. Other times it is, as you say, ludicrous.

  2. I suspect a bad book is easier to put down, or at least skim than an opera is to walk out of Hillary. Our book club has a rule, you don’t have to read the book if you don’t want to. 🙂 Maybe that is why we are still together after 23 years. –Curt

    • I ought, indeed, to have put the book down. But I couldn’t comment if I hadn’t read it, then there is the residue of the puritan ethic – to finish what you start, and remembering that the group have ploughed through books of my choosing. I will know better next time. With an opera, if the musicians are good, you can shut your eyes.

      • Agree totally on the opera, Hilary. As for books, life’s a little too short for me to let the Puritan Ethic get in my way. 🙂 Since we all have the privilege of not reading the book, no one gets too upset. Plus I can skim along with the best and then make semi-intelligble comments. I call it skimming and scamming. lol –Curt

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